The Fantasy Baseball Forecaster has been updated as of Monday, April 24, at 9:55 a.m. ET.
Welcome to the new and improved version of the Fantasy Baseball Forecaster! This year, we've reorganized the story into four parts; it's the same great intel, but you get right where you need to go as fast as possible. Good luck this week!
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On tap: Now that the 2017 season has settled into a groove, we'll see less day baseball -- at least during the week -- as Week 4 begins with the Chicago Cubs at the Pittsburgh Pirates at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN's Monday Night Baseball. There are only eight total day games from Monday through Friday during Week 4, giving fantasy owners more time to set their lineups. The Boston Red Sox host a pair of series that should draw a lot of fans' eyes: They host the New York Yankees from Tuesday through Thursday and the Cubs from Friday through Sunday, with ESPN broadcasting Wednesday's Yankees-Red Sox tilt and Sunday's Cubs-Red Sox contest.
The Arizona Diamondbacks host seven games at Chase Field, where at last report, the team had not yet constructed and begun using their soon-to-be-installed humidor. That means their homer-friendly environment is still in play; with temperatures expected to touch 90 degrees but with low-to-middling humidity, the team could keep the roof open a fair amount of the time. As the Diamondbacks aren't scheduled to face a single upper-tier starter during Week 4, their hitting matchups as a team are easily tops in the majors. They're scheduled to face either three or four left-handed starters -- depending on the identity of the Colorado Rockies' fifth starter (set for April 30) -- so this should be an outstanding week for players such Brandon Drury, Chris Owings and Yasmany Tomas to fatten up their stats. Owings is the only one of the three who has enjoyed any real success against lefties so far this season, but in the others' defense, the five left-handed starters the Diamondbacks have faced were Madison Bumgarner, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Moore (twice). Tomas, incidentally, is a .349/.401/.658 hitter against lefties since the beginning of 2016.
One of the Diamondbacks' opponents, the Rockies, enjoys a similar advantage, thanks to opening the week with four games at Coors Field, followed by three at the aforementioned Chase Field. What keeps the Rockies a cut beneath the Diamondbacks on the matchups scale, however, is the presence of superior pitching opponents during the week-opening series versus the Washington Nationals, who will throw Joe Ross, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez, all of whom are better than any of the pitchers the Diamondbacks will face. Rockies hitters tend to be obvious calls on which to play in fantasy, but one lefty stands out: slow-starting Gerardo Parra, who should benefit from five games against right-handed starters and is a .283/.312/.445 hitter against righties since the beginning of 2015.
The Cubs tend to be one of the more creative squads when it comes to daily lineup construction, and the addition of the designated hitter during their three-game series at Boston's Fenway Park from Friday through Sunday makes the large majority of their offense slightly more attractive plays due to the probability of one, two or three additional trips to the plate apiece. Jorge Soler was their primary DH in 2016, getting seven of their 10 starts at the position, but this season, Kyle Schwarber looks like the obvious favorite to get potentially two (and maybe three) at DH -- with both of their games against right-handed Red Sox starters. Javier Baez (with Ben Zobrist shifting to left field), Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur and Jon Jay appear to be the most likely benefactors of those extra starts -- in that order -- making Baez a clear mixed-league play and elevating both Almora and Jay to National League-only relevance.
The Toronto Blue Jays can ill afford to lose Kendrys Morales' bat, considering the team's offensive struggles: They've averaged 3.00 runs per game, second worst in the majors, with a worst-in-the-bigs .271 team wOBA. It is therefore likely that Morales, one of the team's most talented hitters, will get all three starts at first base during the team's three-game series at St. Louis' Busch Stadium from Tuesday through Thursday. That'll help speed his march toward first-base eligibility in ESPN leagues -- he has three of the required 10 thus far -- but it's also bad news for American League-only owners who have gotten respectable production from Justin Smoak. With the slim chance that Smoak could sneak in a start ahead of Morales, however, coupled with Josh Donaldson's (DL: calf) absence, any St. Louis Cardinals starter who draws a Morales-less Blue Jays opposing lineup would become a stronger daily-league play.
Though the New York Mets, their weekend opponent, could always shuffle their rotation to sneak Noah Syndergaard into that series, the Nationals benefit greatly on the hitting side, thanks to a four-game, week-opening series at Colorado's Coors Field, followed by drawing Robert Gsellman (Sunday) and/or Zack Wheeler (Saturday) during their three-game, week-ending home set against the Mets. The Nationals have been on an absolute tear, leading the majors in runs per game (5.33) and wOBA (.359), while posting the fifth-best strikeout rate (18.7 percent of their trips to the plate) and sixth-best well-hit average (.180). They've also done that despite the absence of Trea Turner, who should be back for the full Week 4 and is an across-the-board fantasy start. Ryan Zimmerman, still available in roughly 40 percent of ESPN leagues, is the player to watch this week, while Jayson Werth, if his leg cooperates, is well worth getting into your lineup for Week 4, as well.
If the Kansas City Royals are to get their season rolling, this is a prime week in which to do it, as they'll make a three-game visit to Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field, then return home to face the Minnesota Twins, while possibly avoiding hot-starting righty Ervin Santana (assuming the Twins promote a fifth starter by week's end). Though the hitting ratings grade those who bat from either side as fairly equally strong plays, Alex Gordon and Brandon Moss, both of whom are available in at least 90 percent of ESPN leagues, are strong matchup plays for Week 4.
Perhaps injuries to two of their usual starters have caused the entirety of their rotation to slip beneath the radar. But the Blue Jays have a rather favorable schedule on the pitching side, with two near-automatics as their two-start pitchers: Marco Estrada, available in just shy of 20 percent of ESPN leagues; and Francisco Liriano, available in more than 75 percent. Yes, Liriano is remarkably streaky, but he's also a strikeout-oriented starter who should capitalize with his second start coming against the Tampa Bay Rays -- who have the majors' highest strikeout rate thus far. Marcus Stroman also should be a strong rebound candidate in his Friday start versus the aforementioned Rays.
The Cincinnati Reds' matchups grade favorably for their left-handed hitters, but be forewarned that theirs is a tricky lineup from which to draw. Two of their notable lefties (or switch-hitters), Billy Hamilton and Scott Schebler, have struggled thus far. In Hamilton's case, his appeal from a base-stealing perspective decreases because the Reds' weekend series will be played at St. Louis' Busch Stadium against strong-armed catcher Yadier Molina. The Reds hit well away from Great American Ball Park in their six road games to date; both Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez -- from the right side of their plate -- are really their only automatics in shallow mixed leagues. The matchup grades do also support Adam Duvall, Jose Peraza, Hamilton and Schebler as viable mixed-league rolls of the dice, but understand this is a risk/reward set of matchups.
Heads up, Ender Inciarte owners -- and owners of any other Atlanta Braves hitters with speed -- the team's leadoff hitter and regular center fielder couldn't ask for a much more favorable set of Week 4 matchups. Inciarte's Braves face six right-handed starters, play three games at homer-friendly Milwaukee's Miller Park and face a group of Mets and Milwaukee Brewers catchers who are poor at reining in the running game.